LONDON Jan 24 Britain has launched its 28th tender for oil and gas licences, opening up new offshore areas to drilling for fossil fuels that generate important tax revenue and create jobs.
The government said on Friday it expected a high level of interest in the tender after it awarded a record 219 licences in the previous round two months ago.
"There continues to be extremely high level of interest in North Sea oil and gas, which is unsurprising when there could be as many as 20 billion barrels of oil still buried deep within the seabed," Energy Minister Michael Fallon said in a statement.
Submissions for new licences have to be made to the government by April 25.
Britain's oil and gas output has been in steady decline since production peaked around the turn of the century and the government is speeding up its planning regime to help oil and gas companies extract resources left below the seabed.
The oil and gas industry is an important contributor to government revenue.
Last year, 36 new offshore projects were approved, generating around 6.5 billion pounds ($10.8 billion) in tax revenue and another 5 billion pounds through taxes on the wider supply chain, the government said.
The sector also employs roughly 350,000 people, of which 45 percent in Scotland.
The government is also counting on vast onshore shale gas resources to help stem Britain's growing dependence on energy imports and boost government coffers.
The energy department is expected to launch the country's next onshore licensing round, which includes shale gas, in early summer.
($1 = 0.6013 British pounds) (Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Mark Potter)